I’ve been stumbling over summer reading lists like…like…potholes in Antigua. And I thought, well, if everybody’s doing it!
But first, I wondered, what makes a good summer read. I mean, we have summer pretty much year round in Antigua but I imagine the summer read means something different to people from other places, the ones we see lying out on our beaches during their summer. What are they reading? Is it what’s hot, what’s new, what’s easy …the kind of book you read and discard? My parents worked in hotels when I was growing up, I got some of those left-behind books …but for the life of me I can’t remember a single one. Is that a criterion that it entertain but then go away…like a clown? No that couldn’t be it. I turned to the book blogs for a definition and found one that I decided to let guide me in creating my own Summer Reading List of Antiguan and Barbudan books. This blog broke it down to books that are escapist, interesting, fun to read – not haha fun necessarily but it should have some popular appeal and not be so ponderous it feels like a chore to read. It’s summer time after all and the reading should be easy – but hopefully NOT disposable.
Other things to keep in mind before you curse me about why your favourites – or your book – isn’t on the list: I have to have read the book and I have to be able to back up my pick with one other recommendation (which will err on the side of reader recs because it’s that kind of list); if there is more than one author, the primary author/s must be from Wadadli and/or Wa’omani; Availability – so available you can walk in to a book store or order it online without having to special order it and cross your fingers hoping it’s not out of print; I know e-readers are the lick but my picks must not only be a physical copy but one that can travel easily in your beach bag, in keeping with the whole summer reads theme; quality can be subjective but I’m not reccing anything that feels slapped together and unedited; finally, I’m a novelist – I have books too and I’m going to mention the ones I think fit the criteria (yes, it’s a conflict of interest, but this is a fun summer reading list nothing here is binding and you are free to leave your own picks and recs in the comments).
Here now are my picks for your Summer Reading List – Wadadli Edition
1. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid – Lucy, a teenage girl from the West Indies, comes to North America to work as an au pair for Lewis and Mariah and their four children. Lewis and Mariah are a thrice-blessed couple–handsome, rich, and seemingly happy. Yet, almost at once, Lucy begins to notice cracks in their beautiful facade. At the same time that Lucy is coming to terms with Lewis’s and Mariah’s lives, she is also unravelling the mysteries of her own sexuality. Gradually a new person unfolds: passionate, forthright, and disarmingly honest.
Why I picked it: Of all Jamaica’s books, the ones I’ve read, this is the best fit for this particular list – though you are encouraged to check out her extensive and extensively important, acclaimed, and awarded catalogue. Jamaica Kincaid is a bona fide literary star – her words have both heft and poetry – but in Lucy, a girl (not unlike characters in shows like Girls) is a young woman trying to figure her life out in New York City (after relocating there from a small island). If another Kincaid favourite, Annie John is about growing up, Lucy is about finding yourself and coming out of your girlhood into your young-woman-hood. I read it for the first time over a few days during a summer in the city, and not only did the poetic flow of her prose seduce me, because of that time, reading it in the park, on the train, in an apartment in Harlem, I will always identify it with summer in the city…and clearly it travels well.
Back-up rec: “This is a very simple story which starts off with several conventional plot twists but ends on a poignant, and somewhat surprising, note.” – reader review Amazon
2. Dancing Nude in the Moonlight by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Young Dominican single mother Selena Cruz is trying to make a new life for herself in Antigua, dealing with prejudice, poverty, and her interfering sister. When she meets handsome cricket coach Michael Lindo, her world is turned upside down. The course of true love is never smooth, and Michael and Selena’s story is no exception as they try to bridge the gap between their two cultures and their personal expectations of love. Romantic and delightful, this novella by Joanne C. Hillhouse looks at immigration and cross-cultural relationships in a warm and very human way. This anniversary edition includes a part two filled with selected poems, stories, and fan fiction.
Why I picked it: One word: romance. It was, also, the Best of Books’ summer read pick of 2008, six years before this 10th anniversary edition was published.
Back-up rec: “Engaging account of the complications of Caribbean life and a cross-cultural, inter-racial romance.” – Fiona Raye Clarke, critic, writing in Broken Pencil: the magazine of zine culture and independent arts
3. Considering Venus by D. Gisele Isaac – Lesley, an African-American, is straight, recently widowed with three children, and looking for a friend, while Cass is Antiguan, gay and looking for love. They meet again 25 years after high school. What happens when girlfriends becomes more than friends?
Why I picked it: Released back in 1998 it was ahead of its time in its exploration of love between two women – one of whom happens to be Caribbean. What’s boundary pushing is not so much the idea and reality of lesbian love but the now topical fluid love – that sexuality is not fixed, but more about person to person connection. That this book is also about grown woman love not young love is also still sadly boundary pushing.
Back-up rec: “Isaac has written a lovely book, with just the right fusion of prose and poetry make it a joy to read.” – at Sistahs on the Shelf blog where it’s tagged “mature lesbians” and “romance” and given a 4-star review
4. Time to Talk by Curtly Ambrose with Richard Sydenham – Sir Curtly Ambrose is one of the most famous cricket players of all time. He is also notorious for his silence. Now, for the first time, he tells his story. From his colourful upbringing in Antigua, through to the turbulent politics of both nation and dressing room, the book takes the reader behind the scenes to give a fascinating insight into the career of an iconic sportsman, and his take on the extreme highs and debilitating lows of international cricket.
Why I picked it: I’ve only just started reading it but I’m liking it, as sport biographies go. I think actual cricket fans will too. I was walking with the book in my hand the other day when a man asked me about it, said he didn’t realize such a book existed AND asked me where he could get it. And that right there tells me it needs to be on this list.
Back-up rec: “a series of insightful opinions” – ESPN cric info
5. Through the Window by Floree Williams – Anya is a 23 year old, complex and often complicated, woman who has to navigate through a maze of friendships, love, a dysfunctional family and finding love for herself.
Why I picked it: Pink Teacups and Blue Dresses is still my favourite Floree Williams book but this one, all about young love and the drama it brings, is made for easy beach reading.
Back-up rec: “I found this to be a very thoughtfully written book, a very enjoyable read.” – Amazon reader review
6. Ladies of the Night and Other Stories by Althea Prince – Women’s loves and lives are the focus of these stories, filled with dramatic twists and turns: some humorous, others shocking and disturbing, all leaving a haunting melody behind. The Toronto stories capture the issues women face as they walk the ground of intimate and family relationships in that city. The Antiguan setting of some of the stories are reflective of Prince’s insight into relationships, captured in her novel and essays. The characters reveal their different ways of managing a range of struggle, pain, rage, love and pure unadulterated joy. The humour of some stories complement the plaintive sadness and emotionality of the strings some other stories pluck.
Why I picked it: These women’s stories may make you sad, though if you keep digging you’ll see they are fighters, survivors not victims for the most part. Because of the (heavy) subject matter I considered holding this one back but that (matter of fact with a side serving of humor) tone tipped the scale.
Back-up rec: “Enjoyed the prose and dialogue. The story itself though made me sad.” – reader review on goodreads
7. Gilly Gobinet’s Cool Caribbean series – Books in the series includes the Cookery Book, the Cocktail book, the 20 Place in Antigua book, the book of hot spices-luscious fruit-and-herb all illustrated in full colour by the artist, using her classic watercolour technique as well a her humorous cartoons. Each is less than 50 pages – making for a quick read that you’ll come back to again and again as you explore the flavours of the Caribbean.
Why I picked it: These are actually handy to carry around and beautifully illustrated (in fact one of the books won the Gourmand award for best illustrations) – there’s one for your cocktails, one for your meals, one for your fruit and spices, one for all the places (well 20 of them anyway) you’ll want to see while in Antigua.
Back-up rec: “… classic watercolours interspersed with humorous cartoons… small but functional” – Search Antigua
8. Unburnable by Marie Elena John – Lillian Baptiste fled Dominica when she was fourteen after discovering she was the daughter of Iris, the half-crazy woman whose life was told of in chanté mas songs sung during Carnival—songs about a village on a mountaintop littered with secrets, masquerades that supposedly fly and wreak havoc, and a man who suddenly and mysteriously dropped dead. After twenty years away, Lillian returns to her native island to face the demons of her past—and with the help of Teddy, a man who has loved her for many years, she may yet find a way to heal. Set in both contemporary Washington, D.C., and post-World War II Dominica, Unburnable weaves together West Indian history, African culture, and American sensibilities. Richly textured and lushly rendered, Unburnable showcases a welcome and assured new voice.
Why I picked it: I’m of two minds about this one. It’s a really good read and there’s no way I could leave it off any list of essential Antiguan and Barbudan reading (though it is set largely in Dominica) – but that’s not what this list is – so the other mind is reminding me that it’s a thick book that deals with weighty issues – there are traumatic scenes and shifting timelines – a lot to keep track of, a lot to absorb – but a good, page turner of a read; so it will stay.
Back-up rec: “Strong writing and interesting supporting characters should keep readers occupied through the end” – Publisher’s Weekly
9. To Shoot Hard Labour: the Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan Workingman, 1877 – 1982 by Keithlyn and Fernando Smith – Sections cover THE FAMILY: Planting Sucker Follow the Root; ESTATE LIFE: Planter Kill King and Rule Country; VILLAGE LIFE: It Wasn t Just the Doctoring We Have To Do for Ourself; THE POWERFUL: Massa Was King and King Do No Wrong; LIFE S UPS AND DOWNS : God Was With Me All the Way; HARD TIMES: Nega Even Though Them Right, Them Wrong; FIELD AND FACTORY: It Was Work Like a Bull
Why I picked it: Well, if we’re going to wade in to heavier territory no reason not to include this (oral/folk) history which really ought to be required reading if you want to understand the nature of the Antiguan and Barbudan. It set the template for folk histories locally, reversing the trend of all histories being written by people elsewhere in a way that held us as objects (acted upon) not subjects in our lives. Coming in its wake have been the writings of by Joy Lawrence and Monica Matthew, notably. And let me just say that though the terrain is pre and post emanciption, a dark time for black/island people…when is it not, right?… but you won’t regret giving up some of your sunshine to this. You’ll feel like you’re talking to Papa Sammy Smith, a man who lived long and told us a lot about ourselves.
Back-up rec: “What a rich read, nicely written with well assisted footnotes.” – Amazon reader review
10. The Road to Wadi Halfa by Claudia Elizabeth Ruth Francis – In 1998 London born Roosevelt Mohammed Lion is chairman of a property empire in the UK. While overseeing a hotel project in his father’s native island in the Caribbean, he is kidnapped by Islamic extremists. He learns that Brayton- Harper, a former Cabinet minister in the British Government is using his ordeal to further his own ends in Africa. Roosevelt struggles to survive life in a training camp and to understand the philosophy of his colleagues in the Sudan. He must be seen to cooperate or risk the life of his precious wife Venus, and his devoted twin brother, Washington, both left in London, to mourn his loss. Washington’s marriage is on the brink of collapse, but it is Roosevelt who meets the Sudanese beauty, Allaya, on the road to Wadi Halfa. Will he learn to trust her or is she plotting her own agenda? Will Al Qaada succeed in their mission to avenge western missile attacks by bombing foreigners in Khartoum? Will Roosevelt be in a position to prevent such an atrocity? Lennox Lion sets out to find his father, but will he rot in jail? The Road to Wadi Halfa is the sequel to Tides That Bind and continues the lives of the Lion brothers and their families.
Why I picked it: Another summer staple is the action-spy-thriller, i.e. international intrigue; am I right? You can have a go at the whole Lion series if you wish but this one makes for a good standalone read for the kind of reader who enjoys a cross-continental (spy-ish) drama wrapped in political intrigue.
Back-up rec: “The story draws you into the world of the ‘Lion’ family and examines class, culture and gender while creating romance, suspense and mystery.” – reader review on Amazon
But what about the children, you say…?
Age 3+ (younger if adults make it for bedtime reading)
Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan – Long ago, Blackbird was voted the most beautiful bird in the forest. The other birds, who were colored red, yellow, blue, and green, were so envious that they begged Blackbird to paint their feathers with a touch of black so they could be beautiful too. Although Black-bird warns them that true beauty comes from within, the other birds persist and soon each is given a ring of black around their neck or a dot of black on their wings — markings that detail birds to this very day. Coretta Scott King Award-winner Ashley Bryan’s adaptation of a tale from the Ila-speaking people of Zambia resonates both with rhythm and the tale’s universal meanings — appreciating one’s heritage and discovering the beauty within. His cut-paper artwork is a joy.
Why I picked it: Good for readalong with little kids and if you can’t read along because you’re deep in your own summer read, there are lots of pretty pictures to keep them distracted…I mean stimulated. The Sun is so Quiet and the Dancing Granny (for slightly older kids) are also great Ashley picks.
Back-up rec: “Bryan’s lilting and magical language is infectious.” – Publisher’s Weekly
How the East Pond got its Flowers by Althea Trotman – A young girl Tulah, born with a caul, is thought to be destined for great things and learns important lessons from Mother Sillah.
Why I picked it: A read for the mid-to-upper primary schooler in your life – a young female protagonist, historical without being dated.
Back-up rec: “literature that represent(s) the range of cultural experiences and histories that make up the national and international communities that touch all of us.” – from Frontiers of Language and Teaching (recommending How the East Pond got its Flowers as an example of this type of literature)
The Legend of Bat’s Cave and Other Stories by Barbara Arrindell – a glimpse of Antiguan history through three engaging stories set in three distinct periods of time. See the Kalinago through the eyes of Antigua’s first Governor’s wife. Meet a priest who was almost defrocked after allowing two former enslaved Africans to get married in an Anglican church. Meet the boy who would become a legendary doctor in St. Kitts.
Why I picked it: History made accessible. Adults will enjoy it too as they do her colouring and activity book Antigua My Antigua, which also will keep your child engaged and informed. My book, The Boy from Willow Bend is a good fit for this age range as well but I don’t have it listed as a summer pick given that some of them are already reading it in school – for those who aren’t though, have at it. For this age group you might also want to check out S E James’ adventure books especially Tragedy on Emerald Island and Forest Fever – I had a time finding links to them online but I believe there are still physical copies in local bookstores.
Back-up rec: “I love it! Wish the stories were a bit longer though” – reader on Smashwords
Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Zahara is a loner. She’s brilliant on the guitar but in everyday life she doesn’t really fit in. Then she meets Shaka, himself a musical genius and the first boy who really gets her. They discover that they share a special bond, their passion for music, and Zahara finds herself a part, not just of Shaka’s life, but also that of his boys, the Lion Crew. When they all get roles in a summer musical, Zahara, Shaka, and the rest of the Lion Crew use the opportunity to work on a secret project. But the Crew gets much more than they bargained for when they uncover a dark secret linking Shaka and Zahara’s families and they’re forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about class, colour, and relationships on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Musical Youth placed second in the 2014 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature.
Why I picked it: My teen pick is one of mine – there are not a lot of teen-specific books in the Antiguan and Barbudan bibliography – or Caribbean for that matter – one reason why the Burt Award giving it a push by encouraging and rewarding books in this genre is a good thing. Musical Youth was first runner up for the Burt Award in its first year 2014. It’ll appeal to all teens and young adults but especially those with a love affair with music and love.
Back-up rec: “The story is modern; the teens are technology savvy.” – Amazon reader review
What? No Poetry?
I don’t know…does poetry make for good beach/summer reading? (Don’t all come for me at once…pace yourselves)
If so, of the ones I’ve read, my top (5) picks would probably be Motion in Poetry by Motion, I am that I am by Tameka Jarvis-George, then Tameka’s Thoughts from the Pharcyde and Motion’s 40 Dayz, then She Wanted a Love Poem by Kimolisa Mings – probably in that order, too.
I can’t speak to their availability but I will say that I had difficulty even sourcing pictures for some of them. But, true confessions, it’s late, I’m tired, I’ve been at this way too long, and I’m posting.
You’ve read the list and my reasons…you’re up.
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, Fish Outta Water, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on WordPress and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen, my books and writing, and/or my writing-and-editing services. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.